The Land of Oz

As a kid, I was always fascinated by the Wizard of Oz. In addition to watching the movie multiple times, I read every single Oz book our library carried. So, I was quite excited when I stumbled upon the PBS series entitled The Magical Land of Oz . To my surprise, it wasn’t about Dorothy or the wizard at all, but was instead three wonderful shows about Australia, where we will be heading shortly. (No tornado required, and, I hope, none expected).

Why is Australia called the Land of Oz? I didn’t know, so I asked Mr. Google, the source of much of my wisdom. Turns out, it has to do with the way it sounds when you say the first three letters of the continent’s name. Give it a try. Anyway, the shows are visually spectacular, much better than anything I can hope to capture with my photos.

Speaking of photos, this is the first trip I will make without bringing a camera. Yes, I will still take photos, but I will be using my new iPhone 11 pro. After our son sent us photos he had taken with the wide angle, telephoto and regular lenses, and showed us what the camera can do with night shots, I was intrigued. It was definitely worth a trip to the nearby Apple store to just take a look. Silly me. I really thought I would be able to leave the store without making a purchase!

Another purchase for the trip was a “lipstick” charger from Amazon. My friend Sally had been using one on our recent bike trip and I was quite taken with the little gadget. Even though the iPhone 11 is supposed to have a robust battery, I didn’t want to take a chance of running out of juice should I encounter a once in a lifetime photo op.

Of course, that wasn’t the only gadget that captured my attention. I also HAD to have the Lencent adaptor I stumbled upon when purchasing the lipstick charger. They both come with cute little storage sacks and don’t take up much room in my gadget bag.

Because my replaced iPhone is few generations old, I decided not to turn it in, but instead plan to purchase a prepaid sim card for use in Australia. (Yes, my buying frenzy continues). After learning that, like New Zealand, free, unlimited WiFi isn’t widely available in Australia, I figured it was worthwhile to give a foreign sim card a try, using THAT older phone for accessing the internet. (An idea I picked up from one of the travel forums I follow).

Here’s what my research uncovered: you need to pay attention to “credit validity”, which was a new term for me. I have since learned that it refers to the number of days the prepayment option has purchased, starting from the day you first use it. So, if you purchase a card with a credit validity of 7 days, and you use it on the 1st of the month, regardless of the gigabytes purchased, you are done on the 8th, and need to “recharge” (pay more).

Why not go with Verizon’s travel pass? Well, if you use the internet ONCE during a 24 hour period, you get charged $10 for that day. It seemed like a better deal to get a prepaid sim card for 28 days for $30 Australian dollars (about $20 US, or two days worth of Verizon Travel Pass.

Why wouldn’t I just use the Australian sim card, in my new iPhone, you ask? Good question. Here’s why: I know myself well enough to recognize that it is entirely possible for me to lose my original sim card, a significant concern.

There are three mobile phone networks in Australia. Telestra, Optus and Vodaphone all offer coverage in the most traveled parts of Australia. Of the three, Optus is the only network that has a store in Melbourne Airport. So, given that this is a new experience for me, I decided that I wanted to interact with a human rather than purchase a card in advance from the internet (Amazon)and hope for the best. That way, I can have someone exchange the cards for me, and make sure that the phone is functioning correctly before we leave the airport.

Thanks to the internet, I was able to check the coverage map for Optus, where I learned that coverage varies by type of device, something I never would have considered. It appears that the iPhone 7 may not have great coverage throughout Tasmania and parts of the interior where we will be visiting. Big decision: will I decide to be without WiFi when in those uncovered areas? Or will I trust myself not to lose my original sim card and just use my new iPhone? Bet you can’t wait for this cliff hanger to be resolved in a future post.

Another cliff hanger: Will we get off the wait list for an upgrade to United’s business class? Here’s the deal. A free round trip ticket would have cost 240,000 miles each, whereas an upgrade is only 60,000 miles each, plus the price of an economy ticket and an additional cash payment. Given that we had nowhere near the miles needed for a free ticket, we opted for the upgrade, resulting in our waiting to see whether United can sell those seats for more than what we paid in cash and miles. It’s a gamble–one that does not make me a happy, loyal United customer. BUT, the other option would have been paying almost $8,000 each for business class. Of course, we could always stuff ourselves into economy for 6 hours to LA and 16 more hours to Melbourne. Yeah, we sure HOPE that’s not happening.

Finally, we learned from our trip leader that during our tour, we can expect temperatures to vary from a potential low of 30 F to highs in the 90’s, with varying degrees of humidity. Hey, its a big continent, and we are covering a lot of ground. That makes packing even more of a challenge. This time, I’m using different packing cubes for cold, temperate and hot areas.

Theoretically, the blue cubes can be compressed. Realistically, the plastic compression bags do a much better job so that’s what I used for my jacket. It is great for travel because the lining zips out, transforming the shell into a light weight rain jacket. Plus, the lining can be worn alone for cool days and shell plus lining will keep me toasty during those 30 F days and nights. Yes, it all fit into my duffel, was under 50 pounds, PLUS my backpack (carry on) had plenty of room to spare.

Here’s the route we, and 10 other travelers, will be taking on our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour. Six of us have opted for the pre trip to Tasmania.

See you in Oz!

Western Pennsylvania’s Surprises

Do you know where you find a section of the Berlin Wall, Peter Fonda’s motorcycle with Captain America helmet, Steve McQueen’s airplane, the Fort where the French and Indian War started, several Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces, and a five diamond restaurant? Hint: check out the map above, specifically the Ohiopyle area. It doesn’t look like there is much in the area, does it? At least that’s what I thought till I got there.

Did you ever plan a trip, thinking that it would be all about a particular site, then discover that the area had a whole lot more to offer? Enough for two posts, even?

We were drawn to the area by a newspaper article I had clipped about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater decades ago. It sat in my “Fun Things To Do” folder until earlier this year, when I figured we either needed to visit the damn place or throw out the clipping. If I had done the latter, you wouldn’t be reading this post.

A quick internet search uncovered a special Fallingwater experience–a sunset tour, lasting three hours, ending with appetizers on one of the decks. The tours are only offered on Friday and Saturday nights, are limited to 10 participants, allow interior photography, and include parts of the house not shown on the other tours. For $150 per person, you can pretend that you are a guest of the owners. Just our kind of gig.

The newspaper article included a photo similar to this one

So how was it, you ask? Well, the house was quite fascinating, especially given that it was completed in 1937. As you can see from the photo above, the house was built over a waterfall. When the windows are open, you can definitely HEAR that water falling! Closing the windows successfully shuts out most of the noise…and also the cooling breezes. Fallingwater, you see, is not air conditioned. Did they even HAVE AC back in the late ’30s?

You’re probably thinking “What’s the point of living over a waterfall if you can’t stick your 10 little piggies into it”? Right? Well, Frank was also thinking just that, so here’s what he did.

The stairway leading down to the water is pretty cool, but what is even more impressive is the way the glass panels slide away.

Do you think he accomplished his goal, which was to bring the outside in?

Here’s another example. You are out in the middle of nowhere, so window coverings are not needed, but in the bathroom, why not have planters built into the window to form a natural curtain?†

When we first entered the living room, it looked like the corner was completely open. It took a while to see what is obvious from the reflection on the window–that two panes of glass are joined in the corner.

Wright not only designed the building, he also created all the furniture throughout the house. I was surprised to see a king sized bed in the master bedroom. Our guide explained that it was actually two twins pushed together and united by a single headboard and bedspread, something TV in the 1950’s would never have shown. (It isn’t that visually interesting, so I didn’t bother posting a photo of it–everyone knows what a king sized bed looks like.) How surprising that it took about three decades for that great concept to catch on!

The kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms are all very small. The focus is on the large living/dining room and the outside balconies. Check out the banquettes in the living room. Not what I consider the most comfortable seating, but maybe if you imbibe enough from those nearby bottles, you won’t notice.

At the other end of the living room is the dining area. Are you expecting the tour to turn left or right into the kitchen? Well, it doesn’t. The kitchen is a tiny space down a flight of stairs and through a very narrow hallway. The owners clearly didn’t spend much time there. That was the domain of the servants. There are no photos, because the kitchen was so tiny, I couldn’t figure out how to frame it.

I was quite happy that our appetizers were not served in the dining room; instead, we enjoyed our hummus, crackers, cheese and veggies on one of the decks.

A staff member was getting everything ready for us. You can see from that blue pole in the foreground of this photo that necessary repairs are being made on the building.

While enjoying our appetizers, one of the other guests strongly recommended that we visit another of Wright’s nearby buildings. Kentuck Knob was built about 20 years later, for friends who were frequent guests of the Kaufmann family, the owners of Fallingwater.

Okay, so I know this is heresy, but I actually liked Kentuck Knob BETTER than Fallingwater. It has all of the usual Wright features, but it just seems more LIVEABLE. Interestingly enough, it is considered “usonian” (Frank’s term for his “middle income” houses.) This “middle income’ house was built for the Hagans, the owners of the ice cream company in Uniontown PA, and was sold to its current owner, Lord Peter Palumbo, who, since 1996, when not using it as his vacation home, opens it to the public.

A photo of the Lord and Diana (wearing her “screw you, Charles” dress) appears in the house. I grabbed this from the internet

Take a look at the cutouts under the eaves. They are a source of light into the living room and supposedly repeat design elements found in the building. (I’m taking that on the guide’s word. I couldn’t spot any of those elements.)

Notice how the carports–Wright’s invention — are nestled into the landscape. The hill behind forms a partial roof.

Although we weren’t allowed to take photos INSIDE the house, there was no rule against shooting through the windows into the interior, which is what I did.

Now take a look at the role the cutouts play in the interior space.

The wall opposite the banquettes is all windows and glass doors, offering access to a walkway and a spectacular view of the valley below.

The price of your admission allows you to wander through Lord Palumbo’s spectacular sculpture meadow. I was particularly taken with the part of the Berlin Wall. His collection also includes three red British phone booths at the visitors center.

I’m tired of writing and you are probably tired of reading so the rest of the area attractions I promised in the first paragraph will have to wait until the next time I post.

Patagonia – Our Final Days

I’ll admit it. I am a lazy blogger. It seems it always happen this way. I start out with great intentions, keeping friends and family updated as to our whereabouts, but toward the end of every trip, I run out of steam. Then, re-entry into our world takes a few weeks. So here we are, back home, reliving our wonderful time in Patagonia via photos.

Our last several days have not been recorded, so let’s start there. If you recall the map from the Punta Arenas post, you’ll remember that we had some very long travel days.

With a bus like this, however, you travel in comfort, and you really get to experience the countryside. There were only 12 travelers (plus guides) on a bus that could carry over 40 passengers! With multiple interesting stops along the way, time passed quickly.

On our way to cross the border back into Argentina, we stopped to pay tribute to Gauchito Gil.

Here’s his story: Gil joined the Argentinian army to fight against Paraguay. He returned to his village as a hero, but soon after, the Argentine Civil War broke out. He refused to fight against his countrymen, so he deserted. He was found in the forest, by the police, who tortured him and hung him upside down from a tree. As a policeman was about to kill him, Gil said, “your son is very ill. If you give me a proper burial and pray to me, your son will live. If not, he will die.” Despite the prediction, the policeman cut Gil’s throat. When he arrived home, the policeman discovered his son was indeed very ill, so he heeded Gil’s prophecy–gave him the proper burial, said a prayer or two, and (wait for it–dramatic pause) the son was CURED!

SO, today’s travelers offer a beer or some other tribute to Gil, as an extra insurance policy for a safe trip. As you can see, we were no exception. Hey, why not.


In addition to educational stops along the way, our guides kept boredom at bay by entertaining and feeding us. Laura, our guia excelente, donned that costume before she served us a wonderful treat. Yeah, I forgot what it is called, but I certainly remember the wonderful taste.

We were not without our national Geographic moments. As we drive the highways and by ways, we noticed several eagles and other large birds of prey sitting on fence posts. Were they watching the cars go by, as an avian form of TV? No, they had figured out that it was just a matter of time before some tasty road kill would make their grocery shopping much easier. Take a look.

Before we knew it we were in El Calafate, Argentina. The main purpose of our 2 night stay here was to view the Perito Moreno Glacier in the National Park.

We certainly did that, both from a ship and from land. It was quite a majestic sight. The experience wasn’t just visual, however. It was also auditory. We could actually hear the glacier groan and thunder, as parts of it crashed off into the sea below.

While in El Calafate, we stayed at the Kauyatun, a gorgeous hotel reincarnated from a former sheep ranch. Best of all, it is within walking distance of El Calafate’s charming center.

Our trip ended in Buenos Aires, where we had our farewell dinner, then flights home the next afternoon.

A toast to Laura

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you have such an interesting, caring, informed, fantastic guide like Laura. We all truly appreciated how hard she worked to make this trip extra special for all of us. Her energy was amazing!

We also felt so fortunate to be a part of an extraordinarily compatible group. Our hope is that this will not be the last time we see these wonderful, smiling faces!

The terrific twelve